We have all heard the word, we have all had an opinion of the word but once that word becomes part of the day to day vocabulary of your own self, you really get the word. The word? Psychosomatic. I really wish I could have a trumpet play the stringing notes of a powerful announcement when I type that word; it seems fitting.
This word more than any other can fill me with the most astonishing fear. Fear that makes my disdain of snakes look like a child’s fear of a monster under the bed. This one word, large and unwieldy, means that we are finally what they feared. The word in my brain means that everything they said, any negative, doubting idea is actually true.
We live with this mental illness. We live with it because the truth is unless we are willing to sacrifice our brains to science we don’t have much other choice. Mental illness is a everyday, all day thing. You don’t get a respite, you don’t get a nap from it; it is as much a part of you as the smile on your face.
But with the knowledge that we have mental illness comes much more destructive understandings. It means that there are millions of people in this world who not only hate us but actively fear us. It means that there are doctors who will look us dead in the eye and tell us they will not treat someone in our condition. It means that when we finally need the big help, the 24-hour doctor care, agents of companies we don’t even know where they are based out of, will make decisions for us. They won’t ask us. They won’t ask the doctors. What it means is that we are out of luck.
There is of course other realities of this disease: you will probably lose your children in any court case no matter how many character testimonies you bring. Another reality is a simple one – if your boss finds out, you will be fired. We can all get up on our horses and state that this is against the law but truthfully there is very few champions of those with mental illnesses.
We can posit that this is because they don’t understand. We can assume that it is caused by a media who thinks that sensationalism is more lucrative than truth. We can assume that an easy buck, a ruthless traitor, even a rainy day can make the reality of this disease so much worse. There is literally not one good thing in life about these diseases, and if you think there are, I have this island.
And then one day your brand new therapist says the word: Psychosomatic. And the rocky cliff that you were standing on starts to fall away from you. And you slide, and you slide and you begin to see almost immediately that everything you were hoping about yourself is a lie. Those points that you have been making have less meaning; those fights you were fighting don’t draw the right blood.
Psychosomatic. The word just reminds me of horror. If I have the audacity to tell anyone that I have psychosomatic systems the first thing that will be yelled, “I knew it.” It was all in our minds. The doctors the world over will rejoice because they no longer need to work on those tests and therapists will get a day off. The diseases that we sufferers have been talking about, screaming about, begging about is all in our head.
For those who don’t know psychosomatic means that you have physical symptoms to mental emotions. Many can equate hypochondria will this word. And when we see hypochondria at least half of us – mostly from the South – think of that rich, old, and jeweled lady demanding her salts and faintly laying on the chaise as if it will catch her. We all know that if she just got up and turned on the air conditioner she would be better, but for now she likes the attention and the drama of the symptoms. By the by, hypochondria is often a good way to make people dance to your tune…just in case.
So despite the fact I do have a recognized and diagnosed disease the fact that I might be going through psychosomatic problems right now undercuts all that I am fighting for. I know that these psychosomatic problems are a response to my own stress. I know that they are a very real way for my body to remind me that holding, cradling and pushing down the true views I have is dangerous. I know that these problems are a way for my body to say, stop. think. get better.
This morning I entered my therapists office with the usual fear/optimism. Toward the end after she had already given my homework (and it is hard) she asked how I was physically feeling. She noticed that I looked tired and run down; and she wondered if I was taking care of myself. All normal therapist things.
I responded that I had been more tired lately, but what was really hard is all the panic attacks I kept having. One after another they have caused me to lose weight I can’t afford and they have made my ability to do much of anything suspect. My bathroom habits are all a mess (but I won’t go into detail here) and my complexion hasn’t only broken out but has the kind of acne that is literally painful sitting on your skin.
And then she said it. That word. And then my stomach for the first time in weeks let loose a really long breath. And my brain stopped as if God himself has spoken. And I knew. I knew the words were true just by my reaction.
The thing about psychosomatic systems is that unless or until someone points them out to you, you can’t see it. You are blind to it. It is like a complete disconnect between the brain and the knowledge the brain possesses. Until someone looks at you and says that these symptoms, which are not normal for you, is psychosomatic it is hard to appreciate all that your brain can truly do.
My brain has been screaming and I have been responding with pain and medication. My brain has been trying desperately to tell me so many things, warning me as loudly as it could, and I have been giving up. Rather than listen to the very real clues that were finally coming from my brain I choose to suffer. I choose to ignore and lay on that chaise for another day.
And now I have to try to listen to a symptom I don’t normally come in contact with. I have to figure out what it is I am doing that my body finds so abhorrent. Because while the world will think that my disease is cured by the knowledge that I finally have a temporary reason for this response, I know that even listening to my brain won’t stop the reaction until it is time.
Until I have done the work and I have resolved the problem the suffering continues. And as it continues it continues in a much harder way. Because I know about it now. I know the problem’s cause so I can no longer ignore it in the haze of those medications. I can no longer give myself permission to complain.